Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Burgundy Road Show comes to Toronto

Originally posted at

During the winter months, wine trade tastings become few and far between here in Toronto. I have always operated under the theory that the reasoning for this is because the organizers do not want to have to deal with a coat check as well but, needless to say, when an event invitation floats across our desks, it is always viewed as a nice change of pace from the dreary monotony of winter. Although March 17th is recognized around the world as St. Patrick’s Day, when I saw that the Burgundy Wine Show was coming to town, I knew it would make St Patrick’s Day very interesting. You see, my ancestry is Irish – through and through – so I wear a lot of green and only drink Irish coffee’s that day.

Understanding the French wine system can be very complicated. I still need to check reference books when I talk about it and I first encountered their labeling practices 25 plus years ago. You see, there is a very big difference between how North American wineries label their wines and how European (primarily France) label their wines. Instead of seeing the name of the grape on the label, you see names like “Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru, Abbaye de Morgeot, 2002” or “Beaune 1er Cru, les Epenottes, 2002”. As you can see, none of these names have an actual grape listed – there is no mention of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir or Auxerrois. It can be incredibly confusing but it is the way the French label their wines so it is up to us to just try the wines and decide which ones we like.

The focus of this wine tasting was the Burgundy (Bourgogne) region of France. When you look at a map of France, the region of Bourgogne can be located south and slightly east of Paris. It is a fairly spread out region in terms of area covered stretching from the town of Auxerre in the north almost all the way down to Lyon in the south of France. Between these two cities, you find the areas of Chablis and le Grand Auxerrois, Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune, Cote Chalonnaise and Maconnais and there are two wines in particular that the region is VERY well known for – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

For this particular day, they had a line up of twenty two different wines – half white, half red – which they felt represent the different areas and quality levels as set out by the government of France. After tasting all of these amazing and interesting wines, there were four whites and four reds which really stood out and it is those wines that I will discuss here:


Blasons de Bourgogne, Chablis Grand Cru, Blanchots, “la Chablisienne” 2005
**** (4 stars out of 5)

One of the first wines we tasted that day. It had an intense and interesting nose – slightly smoky, very powerful and the palate was silky smooth. Just a slight hint of butter indicated a small amount of oak influence but not overpoweringly so. Although the aromas and the flavours were not harmonious in this wine, it was very pleasant nonetheless. This wine was not currently available in Ontario but is available in other markets, including Vancouver, Montreal and stateside.

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Beaune 1er Cru, “Clos des Mouches”, 2005
**** (4 stars out of 5)

This was one of the few wines from the tasting that is generally available through a variety of outlets. You can pick it up at an LCBO in Ontario (check the Vintages section) or you can order it through the importers – Family Wine Merchants in Ontario, Pacific Wine & Spirits in British Columbia. As for the wine itself, have you ever had something to eat or drink that just tasted amazing but you could not explain why? Well, this wine definitely fits that description. There was a slightly smokiness to the aromas but past that, it was just impossible to say what made this wine great. This was just one of those wines you need to seek out and try.

Domain Loron & Fils, Pouilly Fuisse, “les Vieux Murs” 2005
**** ½ (4 ½ stars out of 5)

You know how when you enter a grocery store they have always positioned the fruits and vegetables right there where you enter. Well, imagine those heavenly smells in a glass and you have this wine. This was just a wonderful combination of melon, citrus and stone fruit pouring out of the glass. The flavours were a perfect balance of butter, fruit, cream and spice with just a hint of smoke. It was quite possibly one of the best white wines of the day (or a very close second).

Louis Tramier & Fils, Saint Veran, 2007
**** ¾ (4 ¾ stars out of 5)

I hinted in the above review that it was a very close second to the best wine of the day – this one, in my opinion, has top marks in my books. Keep in mind that this wine needs to be chilled to really shine (possibly slightly over chilled) but it is up front and lively with major citrus flavours, and just a hint of smoke and cream. I normally do not refer to white wines as “Knock You On Your Ass” wines but this is one white wine where you can easily say that.


Domain Charles Allexant & Fils, Beaunne Bressandes 1er Cru, 2006
**** (4 stars out of 5)

While there was this wonderfully delicate floral nose the palate was not at all what a lot of us expected. It was almost as if the tastes were ghosts of their true flavours because although you could detect fruit and earthy undertones they were extremely faint to the point where they almost disappeared. To say the least, this wine was a contradiction of itself and was very, very enjoyable.

Chanson Pere & Fils, Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru, 2006
***** (5 stars out of 5)

2006 was a great year for wine from Burgundy and this wine epitomizes that completely. The rich purple colour was unlike anything I had seen all day and the floral and slightly vegetal aromas coming out of the glass were enough to transport you off to France itself. The flavours were fruity and floral and seemed to go on forever and ever. This was definitely one of those wines that you just can not put down and you feel the need to finish every last drop in the glass. It is definitely one of those pricier wines that are only opened for special occasions – in Ontario, it is around $185 a bottle – but if you have the means, it is worth it to have a bottle on hand when celebrating.

Bourgogne Parent, Beaune 1er Cru, “les Epenottes”, 2002
**** (4 stars out of 5)

Given that it is almost seven years since the grapes were picked, this wine is one of those that should be ready to drink now – and it is! A combination of smoke and fruit in both the aromas and the flavours, smooth tannins and a slightly lingering finish makes this one wine that would be great at your next meal.

Domain Taupenot-Merme, Mazoyeres Chambertin, 2006
**** (4 stars out of 5)

Like most of the other wines from this day, this wine had a powerful fruity nose with a slight hint of herbal. That carried through to the flavours where it is still showing signs of medium to strong tannins. Although I only gave this 4 out of 5, I do think that if you are patient two to three years, the tannins will mellow even more and make this a truly remarkable wine.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cellared in Canada wine - a follow up

Originally posted at

About a month and a half ago I created a blog entry (see "Enough is Enough") about the deplorable and unforgivable situation the Government of Canada and the LCBO has created for our 160 wineries currently operating within the borders of Ontario. Just to refresh everyone's memories, here is a definition of Cellared in Canada wine and the issues surrounding this that affect our wineries.

"Cellared in Canada is a term used to designate Canadian wine which is produced with varying quantities of Canadian and foreign bulk wine. Other allowed terms are "Product of Canada" and "Vinted in Canada". In British Columbia, Cellared in Canada wine is produced from 100 percent foreign content (although industry websites make no mention of the practice, which is not regulated by the British Columbia Wine Authority). In Ontario, Cellared in Canada wine is allowed to be produced from a blend of no more than 70 percent foreign-sourced content and a minority percentage of Ontario wine. The only indication of origin is found on the back of the bottle."

The Issues:

1. Only the larger wineries in the province can afford to purchase wines from foreign countries so there is an incredible power differential at play here.

2. The LCBO actively puts Cellared in Canada wine on THE EXACT SAME SHELVES as VQA Ontario wines in the local stores. This creates confusion because when the general public purchases a bottle of wine, they are looking at the price, looking at the name above the shelf and are assuming that the wine is all from Ontario. As the definition indicates above, "the only indication of origin is found on the back of the bottle".

3. Education - This encompasses both the general public and the staff in the local LCBO stores. The average employee in a LCBO store is operating under a major misconception - either "Cellared in Canada" equates to the same thing as VQA Ontario wine (which is required to be made from 100% Ontario grapes) or "Cellared in Canada" wines means the wines contain 70% Ontario grapes, which is actually the amount of maximum foreign content allowed.

So, where do we stand now with this issue? Well, if you do a Google Search for "Cellared in Canada", the second entry in the results is a link to the Boycott "Cellared in Canada" wines group on Facebook ( and from there you will find over 600 people - with the numbers growing daily - who want to learn more about the issue and who are passionate about the issue. The links section to the group is growing on a weekly basis with links to news articles and websites who are writing about this article. Here is a short list of the current link entries:

St. Catharines Standard

Ottawa Citizen

Sudbury Star

Jancis Robinson

Ottawa Sun

So, what can you do to help? A lot of this is about education - when you buy wine, and you are wanting a wine from Ontario, are you actually buying something that was made in Ontario? As I mentioned, the only way to find a "Cellared in Canada" wine is to look at the origin on the back label of a bottle. When you are in an LCBO store, flip the bottle around to the back so that you educate yourself as to where this wine was actually made.

Actually, I challenge you to take it one step further - if you want to buy Ontario wine, DO NOT buy it from the LCBO. Of the 160 wineries currently operating in the province of Ontario, only 31 wineries currently can be found on the shelves of LCBO stores. That equates to less than 20% representation of Ontario wines by the LCBO which means they are not promoting their own industry. This is despite a major marketing campaign entitled "Meet the Makers, Savour the Flavours" - talk about hypocritical.

So, how do you get your hands on Ontario wine without going to the LCBO? Are you aware that EVERY winery in the province is willing to ship wine directly to your front door - or your office? Better yet, spring is definitely right around the corner - we can feel it in the weather this week - so why not take a weekend road trip to the many wineries available throughout the province? If you are in the Greater Toronto Area this coming weekend (March 20th-22nd), why not stop by the Toronto Wine & Cheese Show and visit the booths of the Ontario wineries who will be there to pour their wines? That way, you have a chance to sample some great wines before actually buying a full bottle of it. I am positive that you will find at least one wine from Ontario - which is NOT a Cellared in Canada wine - that you love and will want more of.